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Redmond, WA |

Can I be jailed for not paying a debt (credit card bill)?

Attorney Answers 8

  1. Most likely not. All that the credit card company can do is notify the credit reporting agencies (which may affect your credit score) and file a civil lawsuit to attempt to obtain a money judgment against you.

  2. You can be jailed for failing to comply with a court order. That's called contempt of court. But if a collection company is telling you that they are sending the sheriff out, that is a whole other problem. Google Fair Credit Collection Practices Act, and take a look at for more information. Elizabeth Powell

  3. It depends on the context. If the bill relates to video tapes or rental equipment, I have had clients charged with a crime and jail was threatened. If your were court ordered to pay this, someone could ask that you be held in contempt for not paying it, but jail time is unlikely.

  4. We did away with "debtor's prison" in the 1700's in this country, but every so often, creditors do try to find a way to bring criminal charges against debtors. I was shocked to read in last week's Puget Sound Business Journal that the Washington State Department of Revenue has recently charged a restaurant owner with theft for failing to pay sales taxes. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits a bill collector from making untrue claims in an effort to collect a debt. If you are threatened with jail, you may have a claim if other criteria are met. No one should have to be afraid that they will be deprived of their liberty over credit card debt. In extreme circumstances, you may want to consider whether a bankruptcy filing is necessary to discharge your credit card debts, but you should consult with an experienced bankrutpcy lawyer to determine if bankruptcy is an appropriate remedy under your particular circumstances.

  5. Typically no, what can cause you to wind up in jail (in Illinois at least, I imagine the procedure is similar in most states), is if they get a judgment against you, they issue a citation to discover assets (or your locale's equivalent) and serve you, and you fail to appear at the court date, so they have a Rule to Show Cause issued due to your failure to appear, and serve you with the rule, and you still don't show up. Then a bond amount can be set and you could be arrested due to the bond, however, this isn't a jail sentence, you only go to jail if you cannot pay the bond. But this is not really do to failing to pay, it is due to your failure to appear at court, so don't ignore court dates that require your presence and you should not have to worry about going to jail.

  6. You can't be jailed for not paying a debt. But you could be put in jail, at least in Illinois, if you fail to respond to a citation to discover assets after judgment. In that case, you could be held in contempt of court and put in jail until you post bond or otherwise purge yourself of the contempt.

  7. No, you are protected by federal and Florida constitutional provisions. More importantly, remember that this is a civil, not a criminal issue. Child support and alimony are different matters. While you do not go to jail for owing, you can get civil contempt not paying or for failure to comply with court orders.

  8. My answer relates solely to Massachusetts law as that is the only state in which I have a license to practice law. Debtor's prisons were abolished in Massachusetts years ago. You can be put in jail for failing to appear in court, failing to comply with a valid court order or if the credit card debt was otherwise fraudulent. For example, if you obtained the credit card via fraudulent representations on the application, or if you used a credit card check that was not good then you could be jailed for the bad check which is a crime in Massachusetts. In summary, the general answer is no, however you should discuss the specifics of your case with a lawyer qualified to practice law in the state in which you reside or where you used the credit card.

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